About the National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative (ECELC)

Launched Oct. 1, 2012, the National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative (ECELC) was a six-year, CDC-funded effort, implemented by Nemours and partners. The project was an intervention aligned with Preventing Childhood Obesity in Early Care and Education Programs (2nd ed.), selected standards from Caring for Our Children (3rd ed.), and the goals of Healthy Kids, Healthy Future, formerly known as Let’s Move! Child Care.

Nemours, one of the nation’s leading child health organizations, worked with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Gretchen Swanson Center for Nutrition to implement evidence-based, practice-tested learning collaboratives in nine states — Arizona, California, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, New Jersey and Virginia.


ECELC Project Objectives

The National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative (ECELC) aimed to spread impactful, sustainable policy and practice improvements in early care and education (ECE) programs to prevent childhood obesity. Partnerships worked closely with stakeholders at local, state and national levels to bring a learning collaborative model to scale nationally and achieve critical outcomes centered on:

  1. Increasing the number of programs meeting the Healthy Kids, Healthy Future best practices and Preventing Childhood Obesity (2nd ed.) standards (PCO), included in Caring for Our Children: National Health and Safety Performance Standards; Guidelines for Early Care and Education Programs, (3rd ed.)
  2. Increasing the proportion of young children in programs that meet those criteria.

A subsequent outcome was a positive impact on the healthy eating, physical activity and screen time use practices of young children and their families.

The overall objective of this project was to assist ECE providers in adopting nutrition, physical activity and screen time policies, as well as breastfeeding support practices.

Through this project and the work of its partners, Nemours provided technical assistance and developed materials to build quality improvement capacity in selected states’ ECE systems to promote sustainability. Nemours’ national network of partners provided critical access to local and state networks of providers and support organizations. These partners and organizations helped spread awareness, enhanced sustainability and aided with the initiative over time as well as spread best practices and tools to other states and tribal territories, as decided with the CDC.

Each ECE collaborative consisted of:

  1. 5 in-person learning sessions, attended by 2-3 representatives (e.g., directors, food service personnel, staff, parent partners, etc.) from each of the 20-25 participating ECE programs
  2. ongoing technical assistance (TA) for the ECE providers participating in the collaboratives, which may include site visits as appropriate
  3. access to tools, materials, resources and curricula based on Healthy Kids, Healthy Future and the PCO standards.

As part of the National ECELC Project, providers discovered how small steps can create immense change in preventing early childhood obesity. They learned about the relationship of healthy eating and physical activity to children’s health, the unique and powerful role of providers, the process of change, and the potential of partnerships with families to sustain change.

Participating States

By 2018, more than 2,200 early care and education (ECE) programs in nine states joined the National ECELC Project to improve healthy eating, physical activity, screen time and breastfeeding support in their programs. Supported by state and local organizations known as “State Implementing Partners”, these programs continued to introduce policy and program changes to support healthy development, learning and growth of more than 191,000 children under five years of age.

Read success stories from ECELC programs and other participants. »



State Implementing PartnerAlabama Partnership for Children

Project Coordinator: Julie Odom,  jodom@smartstartalabama.org 

The Alabama Partnership for Children implemented two learning collaboratives with 68 ECE programs serving 4,304 children. The collaboratives were located in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. A wide range of programs participated in ECELC including Head Start grantees, corporate, faith-based, private and non-profit centers. These collaboratives were supported by four trainers, who facilitated the learning sessions and provided technical assistance to programs between sessions.


National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative - Arizona

State Implementing Partner:Arizona Department of Health Services 

Project Coordinator: Bonnie Williams,Bonnie.Williams@azdhs.gov

The Arizona Department of Health Services (AZDHS) implemented four learning collaboratives with 163 ECE programs serving 16,841 children. Supported by eight trainers, the collaboratives were located in the northern, central and southern areas of the metro Phoenix area, as well as the greater metro Tucson area. A wide range of programs participated in ECELC including Head Start grantees, corporate, faith-based, private and non-profit centers. The Arizona ECELC curriculum, known as “EmpowerPlus”, was fully aligned with AZDHS’s “Empower” initiative which provided tools and resources to enable children to make good choices about nutrition and physical activity.


National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative - Florida

North and Central FL Implementing Partner: Nemours Children’s Health System

South FL Implementing Partner: The Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe 

In North and Central Florida, Nemours coordinator Kevin Cataldo brought 301 programs together in five learning collaboratives to explore resources, actions and strategies for providing healthy environments for 26,320 children. Collaboratives represented a broad geographic area including Greater Jacksonville, Orange County, Osceola County and Greater Orlando. Staff from faith-based, private, Head Start and Early Head Start programs participated in the collaboratives and received on-going technical assistance from ten trainers.

In South Florida, Nemours Project Coordinator, Maggie Thomas, worked in close collaboration with the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties to implement four learning collaboratives with the participation of 330 ECE programs serving over 25,824 children. Each collaborative was organized by a distinguishing feature: early care and education (ECE) programs participating in Miami-Dade Quality Counts (Quality Rating and Improvement System/QRIS); programs currently not participating in “Quality Counts”; and a hybrid collaborative consisting of a mix of Head Start, YMCA and for-profit programs. Additionally, learning sessions and on-going technical assistance were provided by seven trainers fluent in English, Spanish or Creole.


National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative - Indiana

State Implementing Partner: Indiana Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies (IACCRR)

Project Coordinator: Marta Fetterman,mfetterman@iaccrr.org

In Indiana, IACCRR provided support to 213 early care and education (ECE) programs participating in four learning collaboratives across the state. Serving 22,608 children, these programs were based in the northwest, northeast, west central and east central regions of the state, including Indianapolis and surrounding cities. A distinguishing feature of these collaboratives was strong participation of large Head Start programs, including one program with 1,000 children. Collaborative participants also included staff from both licensed child care and unlicensed ministry programs. These collaboratives were supported by eight trainers, who facilitated the learning sessions and provided technical assistance to programs between sessions.


National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative - Kansas

State Implementing Partner: Child Care Aware of Kansas

Project Coordinator: Christi Smith, Christi@ks.childcareaware.org

Child Care Aware of Kansas is the administrator of the statewide Child Care Resource and Referral (CCR&R) network. 115 early childhood programs participated in the “Step It Up Challenge”, serving 9,889 children. Participating early care and education (ECE) programs were located in Kansas City, Lawrence and Topeka. Supported by four trainers, programs identified and implemented healthy changes recognized as best practices from Healthy Kids, Healthy Future and Preventing Childhood Obesity standards. Early childhood programs focused on healthy eating, increasing physical activity, reducing screen time and providing breastfeeding support. In addition, the “Step It Up Challenge” encouraged programs to share effective practices and support each other in their efforts. Trainers provided guidance, encouragement, and help motivate the program staff when implementing practices that meet their identified goals.


National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative - Kentucky

State Implementing Partner: Kentucky Department for Public Health  , Obesity Prevention Branch

Project Coordinator: Rebekah Duchette, Rebekah.duchette@ky.gov

In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, 193 early care and education programs joined three learning collaboratives to enhance their practices, policies and strategies for healthy environments. 16,739 children received care in these programs. Participating programs represented public and private preschools, non-profit, and for-profit child care environments as well as Head Start. Collaboratives were located in heavily populated and rural areas of the state.

Los Angeles, California

National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative - Los Angeles, California

State Implementing Partner: The Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles 

Project Coordinator: Andrea Giese, andrea.giese@ccala.net

The Child Care Alliance of Los Angeles, a partnership of L.A. County’s ten Resource and Referral and Alternative Payment agencies, worked with 189 early childhood programs throughout the county to identify and implement best practices related to nutrition, physical activity, breastfeeding support and screen time. Participating programs represented a diverse group of constituents and included private, non-profit, faith-based, and Early/Head Start programs serving 13,246 children up to age five. Participants were supported by four bilingual trainers and were geographically divided into three collaboratives: East—cities in and around the San Gabriel Valley; Central—communities surrounding Downtown Los Angeles; and South—cities in and around the South Bay. The centers were also eligible to receive additional resources and support through “Choose Health L.A. Child Care”, an obesity-prevention initiative of L.A. County’s Department of Public Health and “First 5 L.A.”, which is administered through the Alliance.


National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative - Missouri

State Implementing Partner: Child Care Aware of Missouri

Project Coordinator: Megan Klenke, megan@mo.childcareaware.org

Child Care Aware of Missouri recruited a diverse set of early care and education (ECE) programs, from both urban and rural settings, to participate in three learning collaboratives. A total of 273 programs, serving 20,818 children, joined a unique network of providers to learn and support each other through a process of healthy change. Supported by a group of six experienced trainers, these learning collaboratives had lasting impact across the state with programs coming from Springfield, Columbia, Jefferson City and surrounding areas, St. Louis City and County, as well as St. Charles County. Participating community-based ECE programs were affiliated with academic institutions, YMCA, health care providers, and Head Start.

New Jersey

National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative - New Jersey

State Implementing Partner: New Jersey Department of Health

Project Coordinator:Juliet Jones, Juliet.jones@doh.state.nj.us

In New Jersey, the Department of Health supported 227 ECE programs participating in ECELC. Supporting 20,205 children, five collaboratives represented the largest number of programs and children in the project. Supported by ten trainers, the collaboratives included programs in ten counties: Camden, Hudson, Passaic, Mercer, Middlesex, Union, Gloucester, Cumberland, Salem, and Essex. The majority of these programs also participate in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). The ECELC project builded upon previous “Shaping New Jersey” efforts, which launched the use of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Self-Assessment for Child Care (NAP SACC) tool for early care and education (ECE) programs across the state. The goal of NAP SACC is to change the behavior of staff and parents in order to create healthier lifestyles for their children and to strengthen licensing regulations to support these changes. The ECELC project helped providers achieve and sustain changes initially identified with NAP SACC.


National Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative - Virginia

State Implementing Partner: Virginia Early Childhood Foundation

Project Coordinator: Emily Keenum, emily@vecf.org

In Virginia, the “Taking Steps to Healthy Success” Early Care and Education Learning Collaboratives project resulted from the state’s unique collaborative partnerships. Three regional collaboratives worked with 209 programs from Petersburg, Hopewell, Richmond, Hampton, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake. Six trainers, experienced in quality change processes and early childhood development, partnered with ECELC participants to plan and implement sustainable changes in policies and practices. The collaboratives created healthier care environments for more than 14,520 children.